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In re Estate of Johnson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 1, 2015

In the Matter of the Estate of Jeanne H. Johnson, Deceased; Sandra Mark, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Jeanne H. Johnson, Petitioner and Appellee
v.
Scott Johnson, Steven D. Johnson, Respondents and Appellants and Stuart Johnson, Respondent and Appellee

Page 216

Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Steven L. Marquart, Judge.

Christopher M. McShane, West Fargo, N.D., for petitioner and appellee.

David A. Garaas, Fargo, N.D., for respondents and appellants.

Michael L. Gust, Fargo, N.D., for respondent and appellee.

Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Benny A. Graff, S.J., Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. The Honorable Benny A. Graff, S.J., sitting in place of McEvers, J., disqualified.

OPINION

Page 217

Crothers, Justice.

[¶1] Scott and Steven Johnson appeal from a judgment denying their application for an order directing distribution of farmland to them and restraining Sandra Mark, as personal representative of Jeanne Johnson's estate, from selling the farmland to Stuart Johnson. The estate argues the appeal is moot because the farmland has been sold. We conclude the appeal is not moot and the evidence is insufficient to support the district court's finding that Mark was acting reasonably for the benefit of the interested persons. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I

[¶2] Jeanne Johnson died in June 2010. Her survivors included her children, Sandra Mark, Stuart Johnson, and Steven Johnson, and her grandson, Scott Johnson. Her will was admitted to informal probate, and Mark was appointed personal representative of the estate in August 2010. Under Jeanne Johnson's will, her residuary estate was devised to Stuart Johnson, Mark and Scott Johnson.

[¶3] Jeanne Johnson's residuary estate included a quarter section of land in Cass County, consisting of farmland and a nine-acre farmstead. Before his mother died, Stuart Johnson leased the farmland from her under a one-year agreement executed in April 2010. In October 2010, Stuart Johnson and Mark, as personal representative of the estate, entered into a " Self-Renewing Farm Cash Rent Contract with Unbreakable Option to Purchase" for the farmland. Under the contract, Stuart Johnson agreed to pay $9,350 yearly in cash rent, and he had the option to purchase the farmland for the appraised value of $248,222. The contract stated it would terminate on the closing date of the sale to Stuart Johnson, at which time the estate would provide marketable title.

[¶4] In November 2010, Steven Johnson filed a claim against the estate asserting he owned the quarter section of land under a contract for deed with Jeanne Johnson. After Mark denied the claim, Steven Johnson sued for specific performance of the contract for deed and delivery of a personal representative's deed to the property. The district court dismissed Steven Johnson's action for specific performance, and this Court affirmed in Johnson v. Mark, 2013 ND 128, 834 N.W.2d 291.

[¶5] In August 2013, Steven Johnson and his son, Scott Johnson, applied to the district court for an order requiring Mark to distribute to them a one-third interest in the farmland portion of the quarter section of land and an order restraining Mark from selling the farmland to Stuart Johnson. After two hearings, the district court entered a judgment denying Scott

Page 218

and Steven Johnson's application to restrain Mark from selling the farmland to Stuart Johnson. The court concluded Mark, as personal representative, had the power under state law to sell the estate's real property if acting reasonably for the benefit of interested persons. The court found the October 2010 agreement between Mark and Stuart Johnson was valid and provided Stuart Johnson the right to purchase the farmland. The court also found that in entering the agreement, Mark was acting for the ...


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